• Published 2nd Jan 2013
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Slipping Through A Sideways Door - hornethead



A man accidently follows his friend, who was believed to be dead, to a strange and colorful land mired in conflict.

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A Friend Far From The East

Chapter 32: A Friend Far From The East

Splashes echoed loudly in the brick encrusted tunnels that criss-crossed under the market of Van Hoover. As quickly as a pair of scampering sewer rats, Mayfield and Cray bounced from one load bearing stone stanchion to the next. They worked in tandem, Cray drilling out holes in the base of the stone pillars and Mayfield sliding the grenades in before stringing a length of line through the pin.

They had already set many such charges through out the complex, each tied to a central line that ran up the main corridor, out the exit, and to the rest of their waiting team by the market's surface. If all went well, they'd be able to simply give the main line a rough tug, setting off the charges and letting them sprint through the ensuing chaos.

"Topher, over here, last one!" Cray called in a hushed shout.

"Got ya, mate, hang on a tick." Mayfield shot back as he finished the set he was working on. Once the new trigger line was tied off, he moved on to the pillar indicated by the little stallion. "You sure this is going to work?" Mayfield questioned lightly as he inserted the charges into the holes Cray had already made.

"If you doubt my work, then I invite you to stay and watch the show down here, personally." Cray countered with a sly grin.

"No thanks," Mayfield retorted, "wouldn't want to deny the best seat to the bastards upstairs."

Up above them, the ceiling thumped and cracked with the tramp and work of the occupying force of the Renegades. Through out the sacked and generally neglected market area, they had made a camp, Lotkin and pony alike mumbling in the low murmur of boredom and sloth as they waited on further orders or to defend against an attack they were now sure would never come with the Royal Guard Garrison having been wiped out.

Though sentries patrolled their borders, none took any particular interest in the small, smelly back alley that housed the entrance to the sewers beneath their hooves and feet. It didn't hold any interest to them for either glory of the fight nor intrinsic value of goods, so it went unsearched. Good that it went unnoticed, because so too did the dark face that peered out from behind the corner from time to time and the occasional glint of crimson that fluttered among some of the roofs near it.

Jackson turned back from his recent spying just as Redflare dropped gently to the deck from the building's top. He looked at the pegasus, who nodded, their chosen route was still scant of enemies. Good timing too, as Cray and Mayfield emerged from the stinking hole in the earth just minutes later. "All set." The British man declared as he pulled himself up after the mustang coated unicorn and grabbed his rifle from where it rested. "Ready to blast the ruddy bastards when you are."

"Just about." Jackson said. Then he brought a hand up to his nose. "Make sure you two take a shower or somethin' when we get a chance, you both smell like manure." He complained.

"Oh, and you're the absolute bloody example of hygiene, are you? None of us have had a fuckin' wash in days ya moppet." Mayfield decried with a hint of good humor. "Don't worry, Your Holiness. I'll take a nice long bath as soon as we're clear of this shithouse. Right, Crazy Cray?"

"Yeah, for sure." The weedy unicorn replied enthusiastically.

"Good to here." Jackson said, becoming serious again.

Mayfield sensed the shift in mood and took up his position on the wall, firmly grasping the trip wire he was to pull as he did; pulling the slack out, but not too much. It all hinged on timing now. They had to make the run when the market's inhabitants were most distracted and disorganized, a small window to avoid detection from such a large force. Jackson was sure they would have to do some fighting, but hopefully not enough to bog them down. Speed in this situation was paramount, and any hiccups could very well spell their end.

Jackson looked back at his team one last time, they all nodded, ready. Jackson pointed back at Mayfield and the green eyed man yanked the cord. Two seconds passed. Then three, and then five. Nothing. Whirl was about to mouth a question when he was rudely interrupted by a series of staccato pops and bangs that could be felt up through the stone.

Everything froze.Jackson's team looked on with wild eyes, weapons up and ready. In the large space of the market, the Renegades stopped and looked around in confusion, some staring questioningly at the ground beneath them. The silence lasted an almost imperceptibly long time.

Finally, one of them thought to cry alarm, but it was too late. With a great groaning and rending of earth, the market collapsed, breaking and splitting into great heaving chunks. Great maws of earth and stone opened, swallowing groups of Lotkin and ponies, washing them down with a cascade of brick and stone.

Jackson saw their chance, "Let's go, stick close to the buildings!"

Together in single file, they dashed out from their cover. They ran down a narrow length of brick work between the collapse and the buildings that had held its ground. A few soldiers had taken advantage of this and stood, staring in awe at the massive destruction that kept their eyes from the real danger.

As he ran, Jackson dropped the hostiles ahead with a few well placed shots, sending their bodies tumbling into the trench. The plan had been good. All eyes had been drawn to the great gaping hole that swallowed so many and none gave the sporadic sound of gunfire any particular attention.

There was only one minor snag in their flight. One of Cray's hooves slipped on a loose piece of rubble that almost sent him careening over the edge. "I got you buddy!" Redflare cried, flying close with them overhead. Deftly, he swooped down and grabbed the terrified unicorn around the sides, flinging him to the relative safety of the ledge.

The ragged group of fighters had nearly made it to the wharf before they were even noticed. However, once they had been exposed, a rallying shout went up among the Renegades and a large brace of them closed to make the pursuit. There was sparsely any cover now between the market and the docks, they would have to cover their own retreat.

Jackson slowed, "Whirl, Cray, Topher; turn, drop and fire!" He ordered over his shoulder. Almost instantly, they followed through, spinning around and crouching to present a smaller target. In unison they opened fire, sending their pursuers into a scatter for cover against the hail of lead. "Drop back, drop back!" Jackson shouted as he himself turned and crouched low by a wall.

As soon as his three teammates ran past him, Jackson let off a few controlled bursts back at their enemies. In this way, they leap-frogged up to the docks. Some of the Renegades behind them brought more than just sword and spear and multiple times they had to press against the wall of a house or shop to avoid getting shot.

They had almost reached the start of the docks when they hit a dreadful change of luck. From behind a set of stalls, an orderly rank of Lotkin armed with rifles marched out to block their path. "Shit!" Mayfield cursed loudly, "Everyone, duck in here!" He led them to a small concave gap between two houses that was only ten feet deep and just wide enough to shield them all.

The last member of their team had barely crossed when the ground and the corners shielding them on both sides erupted in a spray of chipped stone as their enemies poured rifle fire onto their position. The moment they stopped to reload, every RSTG member with a firearm leaned out and fired, sending the Renegades diving for cover of their own. Still, the special forces operators were pinned down and reduced to trading potshots with their aggressors in a bid to keep them back.

After a searingly close salvo, Jackson slumped back against the wall they were huddled against and began reloading his weapon with tired fingers. He had less than a belt of ammo left, he could no longer afford to put down a steady stream of suppressing fire. Just as well, the rest of his team was almost dry, a condition reinforced by the actions of Mayfield and Cray who slumped down beside him and merely checked their mags rather than swap them for fresh ones.

"Think we might be done here, mate." Mayfield remarked breathlessly. "Knew I should have held onto a few of those grenades."

"Woulda, shoulda, coulda." Jackson replied without humor. "Cray." He said, turning to the unicorn. "Tell me you got another trick or something."

Cray swallowed as he caught his breath, "There's one thing I could do. I'm almost out of five-seven, but I scored high in Combat Magic. Problem is it's super energy consuming. I might not be able walk after performing the spells required to get out of this jam." He said matter-of-factly.

"Do it." Jackson ordered. "I want you to bring the house down on the street behind us, literally. Get with Whirl, have him help you."

"You got it."

Cray got up and grabbed Whirl from a corner, bringing him back to go over a plan. "One last desperate run for freedom, eh?" Mayfield commented to Jackson.

"Yeah, looks that way." He said dully as he flipped the lid on his Mk 43 down and gave it a wiggle to make sure it was secure.

"Fair enough." Mayfield grunted as he got back up. "Didn't want to die on my arse any way."

Jackson got up to join him and saw Cray and Whirl standing ready on his signal. He gave them the go ahead and moved to the forward corner. "All right, last run. Blackjack, as soon as we're at the docks, take up the lead and take us to your boat. Everyone else, pay attention and follow Blackjack close, ready on my mark!" He bellowed above the roar of gunfire.

Behind them, Cray and Whirl were bent in concentration, sweat beading their foreheads. They pooled their resources of energy and selected their target; a tall, dilapidated building that stood on the other side of the street a short distance back the way they'd come. The building took on a strange silvery sheen and it began to groan much like the market had just before its demise.

The Renegades there, now all too familiar with that sound, recognized the danger and tried to fall back. It was in vain, however, as with a shriek of metal and stone, the building's base ripped open east to west and began to tip over. Before the building was even half way down, Cray and Whirl tuned as one and aimed their horns down the street to the docks.

The beams of energy they shot from their horns melded and intertwined together, spiraling and leaping around each other before impacting the ground between the two enemy positions at the end of the street. There was a sudden and terrifying eruption of heat, light and sound that blew down the Renegades there and left them stunned, if not wounded.

Finally, the building to their rear came crashing down, burying the Renegades not fast enough to clear its way and blocking the rest off from the street. Cray started to slump to the ground in exhaustion, but was picked up by Iron who tossed the tired mustang onto his back. Whirl was able to move on his own, Cray having supplied most of the energy and structure for the spells.

"That's it, hit'em hard!" Jackson shouted over the din of tumbling and sliding rock.

With renewed energy, the team surged forward to the gap. Some of the Renegades had been thrown clear of their cover by the magical attack. They were in the process of picking themselves back up, but Jackson and Mayfield put them back down with a few quick bursts. The others were getting back up behind cover now, but in an impressive display of marksmanship, Mayfield was keeping their heads down with some carefully aimed trigger pulls.

At this rate they might actually make it and for a second, Jackson allowed himself some hope. That hope was shattered though when a bullet skipped off the ground by his feet and another grazed his face, carving a thin painful line across his jaw. He looked back and was dismayed to see that the Renegades behind them had climbed over and through the obstruction lain in their path and were once again advancing.

Only a few of them were armed with rifles, the rest just carried simple, but still dangerous, blades. While not deadly at distance, the number of Lotkin and ponies with swords would cause a major hassle to his team if they caught up with them and they were gaining fast. Jackson signaled for his team to keep moving, then stopped and turned, bringing his weapon to bear.

In three short burst, he dropped one of the ponies armed with a rifle and two of the sword wielding Lotkin, but his weapon clicked empty after that. In dire straits, Jackson let the Mk 43 drop heavy on its strap and drew his sidearm. With a few well aimed shots, he brought down two more armed with rifles and another with a pistol.

The fighters were almost upon him and he paused to reload, cursing as he dropped the fresh mag and scrambled to retrieve it. When he looked up again, fumbling with the magazine, a tall Lotkin swordsman was rushing him, blade held high. Jackson braced for what would surely be a crippling blow and reached for his knife.

There was suddenly the piercing call of an eagle directly above him and he flinched, but the blow never came. Instead, there was a sickening crunch and a spray of hot blood. Jackson stood and brought his knife up, opening his eyes to see a sight he definitely didn't expect.

The Lotkin was now on its knees, torso leaning back, arms dangling uselessly at its sides. Through the warrior's chest, a long, shining steel sword had been thrust from above with such force that the tip had exited out the small of the back and impaled itself into the stone. Grasping the Great Sword and perched on the corpse's shoulders was a tawny griffon in battered, unusual, ancient looking armor.

The griffon glanced up at Jackson with keen eagle's eyes and said but one word: "Run!"

Jackson was hesitant, but the creature's eyes said it all; he could hold the line and cover the retreat. He gave the strong beaked warrior a nod and turned to catch up with his team, just as another group of Renegade soldiers attacked once again. With another grating eagle's call, the griffon ripped his sword from the fallen Lotkin warrior and swung it in a great arc, decapitating two stallions and taking the arm off another Lotkin Renegade before crunching into its ribs and killing it.

Putting the slaughter behind him, Jackson ran to his team and soon found himself level with them at the end of the street. As he drew up, he found Mayfield and the others waiting for him, Renegade corpses at their feet. "What happened, you alright?" Mayfield asked.

"Yeah, fine." Jackson huffed as he caught his breath. He turned and looked back to see how the griffon was doing, but he was gone, leaving only a large pile of bodies where he once was. Jackson was grateful to have the heat off him and his team and he hoped the stranger had escaped unharmed.

"C'mon Jackie, let's go more'll be along soon."

Jackson brought himself back up to his full height and started forward, "Yeah, let's get the fuck outta here. Blackjack lead the way, quickly."

"Yes sir, Mr. Jackson sir!" The earth stallion replied in a semi-sarcastic tone.

Jackson still found him a little annoying but he would tolerate it for a ride out. Blackjack led them onto the docks and down between the rows of slips to the very end where a decrepit looking, but good sized boat awaited them. Blackjack galloped up and bounded onto a fifty-five foot sailing vessel with the sails still curled up around the boom. "Get on and cast off." He said as he jumped down to a hatch set in the deck of the fantail.

"Really, a bloody sail boat?" Mayfield complained as his squad mates hopped aboard around him. "The damn sails aren't even rigged, they'll ventilate us and put us under before we're even out the slips!"

Blackjack's head popped up out the hatch, "Don't be knockin' down Old Betty just yet, she's got some surprises up her skirt."

"Oh? Like what, super sinking power?"

"No, like this!" Blackjack once again disappeared below the deck. His absence was followed shortly after by tell tale high pitched revving of an electrical engine. The stallion then reappeared with a laugh, "Ya best be gettin' on board now, calvalry's a comin'!"

Mayfield swore and jumped on board, helping his teammates un cleat the mooring lines and cast them off. They were just starting to pull away when another group of Renegades came pounding down the dock and started shooting at them. Blackjack finished up what he was doing down below and jumped on the helm. "Hay and feathers, keep'em off my flank so I can get us out of here!"

Mayfield and Whirl went prone on the deck with their rifles while Jackson braced himself against the mast and stared to return fire with his pistol. Meanwhile, Iron found the door to the cabin and dove inside with a still unconscious Cray. Bullets slapped into the old wood, splintering it and bursting the paint off in flakes, but Blackjack gunned the engine and the old boat took off amidst the plumes of water thrown up by the lethal rounds and soon moved out of range.

Once they were clear, everyone on the boat finally relaxed. Mayfield rolled over and stared up at the starry sky, Jackson just slumped down against the mast. "Hooee! That was a run for the money now, wasn't it?" Blackjack hollered excitedly. "Haven't had a close shave like that since Nightmare Night a few years back! Who wants a drink?"

"You got anything good?" Jackson mumbled from the base of the mast.

"Now what kind of host would I be If I didn't break out the good stuff for my guests?" He replied. "Lemme see what I got down in the cabinet." Blackjack checked their heading out of the bay and ducked into the cabin.

The adrenaline was wearing off now and Jackson found himself moving sluggishly as he got up and found a somewhat comfortable seat by the helm, aft of the mast. A moment later, Mayfield plopped down into the seat across from him, rifle clattering on the bench as he sat down. From inside the large cabin, the ring and clash of glass bottles and cups hitting each other could be hear.

"The bugger's got a regular gin palace here." Mayfield remarked tiredly, leaning over to peer through the hatch.

"Better than a small wooden box." Jackson said, leaning his head back with his eyes closed.

Mayfield chortled, "If we even would have got that."

"How's Cray doing?"

"Fine. Little blighter's all tuckered out. Sleepin' it off on one of the couches inside, Iron and Redflare're watchin' him. Earned it after that crazy arsed light show back there!" He laughed.

Jackson mimicked his friend's laugh, "Yeah. . ." For a little while, he just sat there with his head back, letting it rock with the movement of the boat in the water. After who knows how many days without proper food or rest, Jackson just wanted to sleep. He knew he still had a large task ahead of him, but right now, nodding off into dreamless rest was all he could think about.

He was pulled out of his thoughts of rest, however, when he was pulled back to the land of the living by a harsh clatter of glass. "All right, pick yer poison, I got whiskey, I got rum, hell I even got a little gin for you fancy folk!"

"Gin palace, really." Mayfield drolled. "Pass me the whiskey, will you mate?"

"Here ya go! Mr. Jackson, what'll it be for you?"

Jackson wasn't really in the mood to drink at the moment. Be he thought he might as well share a drink with some of his team. They had pulled through a hellish escape with only a few bumps and scratches, something that was at least worth toasting. "I'll have some of that whiskey." He said, opening his eyes to reach for the bottle and a glass.

He froze. Jackson still had his head back, so he had a great view of the mast against the star filled backdrop, and the large menacing shape perched at its summit. "Toph." He said slowly, "No sudden movements. Carefully, pull out your sidearm, company over head."

Mayfield went stiff at the words, but slowly did as instructed, staring up as he did so. "Please, do not do that." Mayfield stopped. The shape on top of the mast had made the request in a soft and lightly accented voice.

"Who are you?" Jackson challenged. "Show yourself, slow. I'm done fightin' today, I don't want to start another."

"I assure you," the shape replied, "I do not wish to fight also, but to help you and your friends."

"Yeah? Prove it!" Mayfield shouted up.

At the tip of the mast, great shadowy wings flared open and the shape launched itself from its perch. Jackson and Mayfield leaped up, hands flying to their sidearms as it alighted on the rail of the fantail, the metal sagging under its weight, and entered into the light. A tawny griffon peered curiously at them in the light. He wore strange segmented armor that reminded Jackson of the ancient samurai warriors of his own world. More impressively though was the enormous sword the griffin wore across his back, protected in a wide leather sheath.

Jackson relaxed slightly, he recognized the griffon. "You're the one from the street, the one that helped me." The griffon's only reply was a quiet nod.

"He helped you?" Mayfield questioned.

"I should be dead. This guy saved my life back there."

"Yeah, sure." Mayfield said skeptically. "Aren't you blokes huge carnivores?" He asked the amalgamation of bird and lion.

The griffon seemed to grin, "Please do not be alarmed. My people do eat meat, but pony has long since left our appetites and I guess human to be not at all pleasant. Those of my clan mostly feed on fish and other fruits of the sea."

"Arsehole." Mayfield muttered under his breath.

Jackson sat down, he really was tired. "So you want to help us. Why?"

The griffon dropped down to the deck with barely a sound, despite his muscled bulk, and settled on his haunches. "Allow me to introduce myself first. I am Kai, of the Silverblade Clan. I was sent, with others of my flight, to participate in friendly drills with the Equestrians, as we have done for many years now. Fate was not so kind to us, as we were attacked by this foul army and I became separated from my flight."

"Yeah, I think I remember something like that." Jackson said. "Pegasus by the name of Howitzer said he was working with you guys, you seen him?"

"Yes, we were working with this Howitzer." Kai replied. "Unfortunately, I do not know of his fate or that of the rest of my flight."

"Well as long as you're a friendly." Mayfield conceded. "Wouldn't mind having a big bruiser such as yourself watching my back."

Jackson looked back at Blackjack, "We got room for one more?"

Blackjack huffed, "Don't look like I got much of a choice, do I? Welcome aboard big fella."

Author's Note:

OC Kai Silverblade created by: Gale Force

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